Wednesday, February 10, 2016

book study begins- come journey through season of Lent with Keystone UCC

Book study group begins tonight
Come deepen your reflective weeks leading to Holy Week

All Are Welcome!
Lenten season book study: Wednesdays 7-8:30 pm
with Pastor Lauren:

Keystone UCC, 5019 Keystone Place N. Seattle WA 98103
Downstairs in Battson Hall; accessible by ramp.

Come for conversation over hot tea, as we spend six weeks during the season of Lent.  We will deepen our connections toward Holy Week. Come together with others from Keystone as we wrestle with this informative book.  All welcome- feel free to merge in next Wednesday and catch up.
"The Last WeekWhat the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem" by Marcus Borg & John Crossan (2006.).

Pick up your own copy- you can find one here
Or, the Episcopal Bookstore near Keystone UCC has copies available:
3837 Stone Way N, Seattle WA 98103; open 9:30 AM- 5:30  PM.  (206)- 545-0500.

All the copies from the church office have been passed along & picked up.


Church:  206-632-6021

Feb. 10- Preface and Ch. 1- "Palm Sunday"
Feb. 17- Ch.'s 2 & 3- "Monday" and "Tuesday"
Feb. 24- Ch. 4- "Wednesday"
March 2- Ch. 5- "Thursday"
March 9- Ch. 6- "Friday"
March 16- Ch.'s 7 & 8- "Saturday", "Easter Sunday" 

Season of Lent at Keystone UCC:  
Feb. 10- Lent begins with Ash Wednesday
March 24- Maundy Thursday evening Supper @ Keystone
March 25- Good Friday evening worship @ Keystone 
March 25- Evening worship @ Liberation UCC - 7 Last Words 
March 27- Easter Sunday!
Click here for: Justice Leadership Program- UCC
LIKE Keystone UCC on Facebook
Click here to read our Keystone blog at "Latest News" on our website

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sermon: Troubling Love

A Reading from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
13:2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
13:3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
13:4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
13:5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
13:6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
13:7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
13:8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
13:9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
13:10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.


The Gospel reading is Luke 4:21-30

4:21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
4:22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"
4:23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'"
4:24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.
4:25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;
4:26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.
4:27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."
4:28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.
4:29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
4:30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Epiphany 4 Year C 013116
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30
Troubling Love
By Rich Gamble

At first hearing it is difficult to think of why these two scriptures are linked in our lectionary. It turns out that the link is essential.

There are three kinds of love. Unfortunately, English has only the one word, love. That’s why I like Greek, at least in this one instance. Greek has three words and I use these to stand for the three kinds of love. One is eros, which is about acquisition. I eros you means that I desire you. Eros is really about what I want. I may give you things and be thoughtful, people are often kind to their treasured possessions. But eros is energy is about possession. It is inward flowing.

Philia is about mutuality. I love you and therefore I will go with you to your dopey chick flick but then I expect that someday you will go with me to my action movie.

The third word is agape. Agape is all about giving and not at all about getting back in return. I think of these forms of love as directional eros is all coming in philia is back and forth and agape is all going out. Eros and Philia often use the word “my”. My spouse, my family, my nation, my faith when we hook the word “my” to the word love it is a signal that we probably are not talking about agape. Agape recognizes no distinctions between those loved.

In this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church the word Paul uses over and over again is agape. Paul speaks of the love that gives of itself without asking anything in return, without needing anything in return. Agape love is complete unto itself. Eros must acquire the thing desired. Philia expects mutuality in giving. But agape is sufficient in the giving. This love is as close as we can come to defining the nature of God.

Eros and Philia do not necessarily conflict with systems of domination. Indeed they can be the glue which binds people to such systems. Desire for comforts for ourselves and our loved ones can make people willing participants in systems of exploitation and greed. People who are willing to kill or harm another for the sake of a lover, friend, family, nation or religion are not acting out of agape.

When we hear Paul’s poetry about agape, it sounds soft and wise and gentle. So what does all this have to do with today’s story about Jesus? Today’s Gospel reading shows Agape as embodied by Jesus. At first Jesus says things that impress his hometown audience. They find it hard to believe that the carpenter has turned into prophet but there is no denying the way the man speaks of his faith with authority.

Jesus read from book of Isaiah, and had he read a bit farther he would have read assurances from Isaiah that God was on the side of the people of Israel. That could well be what the people were expecting him to say.

But Jesus said just the opposite, he told the people that they didn’t have a lock on God. Jesus wanted this passive and polite audience to awaken to the startling revelation that God’s work was calling out to them and they were missing the call. Beyond that Jesus’ sermon told the hometown crowd that God could easily work with other people if those who called themselves the people of God were not going to act faithfully.

What does this have to do with love? Everything. Agape is about giving of ourselves to help others become givers. At the very least Agape wants people stop passively harming others by staying silent about suffering inflicted upon others. Remember that there is no “my” in agape. Whoever suffers draws agape’s concern. Jesus could have been polite to his audience and left them basking in their own self-approval but it wasn’t about making his audience feel good, it was about what he could do to move his audience to awaken to their calling to embody agape.

Kate and I used to do a lot of camping in British Columbia. There a plenty of bears, including Grizzly bears there. Campers are warned about how to camp in bear country. One thing campers are told is that they should not shine flashlights at the bear. The bear’s eyes, used to the darkness, perceive bright light as an attack and there is a possibility that the bear will violently retaliate to this perceived attack.

The people in Jesus’ hometown wanted to kill him because he shined the light of God’s agape into their eyes, and their eyes were accustomed to the darkness of the system of exploitation of the Roman Empire of which Israel was a part.  

Christians have come to confuse agape with niceness, with being polite, with following the rules. Agape is about helping people transform into the likeness of the ultimate good which is agape and sometimes we do that by making others uncomfortable or even angry so that that can see past the blinders of the system of domination that surrounds them so that they can see the path of agape.

Martin Luther King experienced this in his work in the South. While sitting in jail in Birmingham he was publicly lambasted by Christian and Jewish leaders, who said that his goal of justice may be good but that his tactics shook the peace of the community and therefore had to be condemned. King wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in response to his religious critics. Here is part of what he said in reply to them:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Agape isn’t about being nice it is about transforming the world into the image of agape. Injustice is a sign of the absence of agape in a social setting. In order to remedy the situation King had to stir things up, make people uncomfortable with the status quo, make the violence that already existed but had become so common place that it was invisible, become visible through non-violent direct action. He had to shine a light in the darkness.

In December Americans were polled as to whether the United States should bomb the country of Agrabah. Thirty percent of Republicans and nineteen percent of Democrats believed that we should bomb the country of Agrabah. There was just one problem with the question, Agrabah is a fictional country that exists only in Disney’s movie Aladdin. Thirty percent of Republicans and nineteen percent of Democrats polled supported bombing and killing people simply because their nation sounds like it is in the Middle East. That is a horrifying level of comfort with pointless violence.

The One Night Count this week showed a nineteen percent increase in unsheltered homeless people. This is economic violence to which we’ve grown accustomed or as Peter Marcuse said: “Homelessness exists not because the system isn't working but because this is the way it works.”

Jesus could have just left his hometown crowd complacently perpetuating injustice by passively participating in an exploitative system, but that would not have been the loving thing to do.

The God of agape calls us to active engagement in making the world a mirror of God’s self-giving love. The God of agape is continually beckoning us all to embody that love. That is why we would like to try an idea came from Levi, Eliza’s husband. We would like to try adding a time in worship each week for members of the congregation to share how they have shared the love of God in acts of compassion or justice. We will open up a time in worship for people to briefly (and I want to emphasize the “briefly” part) share some act of Agape they’ve done during the past week. We don’t need to hear the whole story, just a sentence or two about your action. Call or write a political leader or participate in a march for justice, make food for the hungry, talk to your neighbor about global warming, make a phone call to someone who could use a kind word. How is what we talk about on Sunday being carried into the world throughout the week? Let’s share those as part of our offertory time. You can say a few words out loud or write it down and put it into the offering plate. Let’s inspire each other by the things we are doing.

What was true for Jesus is true for us. If we follow the God of Agape then we will inevitably come into conflict with those who use the love of their nation, their families, their religion as a reason to ignore the call to love strangers and enemies. We will come in conflict with those who proclaim a violent god of judgment or an apathetic universe. We will come in conflict with those who want to justify their luxury. And we will come in conflict with nice people who just want to be left alone to do their own thing while they ignore (and thereby perpetuate) the suffering all around them. The people of Jesus’ hometown tried to kill him for what he believed. Why should we think embodying Agape is free of conflict?

The God of Christ calls on us to carry God’s outrageous, uncompromising, undeterred agape love to the world and we celebrate that as good news.